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A schematic representation of a closed system and its boundary

System (from Latin systēma, in turn from Greek σύστημα systēma) is a set of interacting or interdependent entities forming an integrated whole.

The concept of an 'integrated whole' can also be stated in terms of a system embodying a set of relationships which are differentiated from relationships of the set to other elements, and from relationships between an element of the set and elements not a part of the relational regime.

The scientific research field which is engaged in the study of the general properties of systems include systems theory, cybernetics, dynamical systems and complex systems. They investigate the abstract properties of the matter and organization, searching concepts and principles which are independent of the specific domain, substance, type, or temporal scales of existence.

Most systems share common characteristics, including:

  • Systems have structure, defined by parts and their composition;
  • Systems have behavior, which involves inputs, processing and outputs of material, energy or information;
  • Systems have interconnectivity: the various parts of a system have functional as well as structural relationships between each other.
  • Systems have by themselves functions or groups of functions

The term system may also refer to a set of rules that governs behavior or structure.



The word system in its meaning here, has a long history which can be traced back to Plato (Philebus), Aristotle (Politics) and Euclid (Elements). It had meant "total", "crowd" or "union" in even more ancient times, as it derives from the verb sunìstemi, uniting, putting together.

In the 19th century the first to develop the concept of a "system" in the natural sciences was the French physicist Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot who studied thermodynamics. In 1824 he studied what he called the working substance (system), i.e. typically a body of water vapor, in steam engines, in regards to the system's ability to do work when heat is applied to it. The working substance could be put in contact with either a boiler, a cold reservoir (a stream of cold water), or a piston (to which the working body could do work by pushing on it). In 1850, the German physicist Rudolf Clausius generalized this picture to include the concept of the surroundings and began to use the term "working body" when referring to the system.

One of the pioneers of the general systems theory was the biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy. In 1945 he introduced models, principles, and laws that apply to generalized systems or their subclasses, irrespective of their particular kind, the nature of their component elements, and the relation or 'forces' between them.[1]

Significant development to the concept of a system was done by Norbert Wiener and Ross Ashby who pioneered the use of mathematics to study systems [2][3].

In the 1980s the term complex adaptive system was coined at the interdisciplinary Santa Fe Institute by John H. Holland, Murray Gell-Mann and others.

System concepts

Environment and boundaries
Systems theory views the world as a complex system of interconnected parts. We scope a system by defining its boundary; this means choosing which entities are inside the system and which are outside - part of the environment. We then make simplified representations (models) of the system in order to understand it and to predict or impact its future behavior. These models may define the structure and/or the behavior of the system.
Natural and man-made systems
There are natural and man-made (designed) systems. Natural systems may not have an apparent objective but their outputs can be interpreted as purposes. Man-made systems are made with purposes that are achieved by the delivery of outputs. Their parts must be related; they must be “designed to work as a coherent entity” - else they would be two or more distinct systems
Theoretical Framework
An open system exchanges matter and energy with its surroundings. Most systems are open systems; like a car, coffeemaker, or computer. A closed system exchanges energy, but not matter, with its environment; like Earth or the project Biosphere2 or 3. An isolated system exchanges neither matter nor energy with its environment; a theoretical example of which would be the universe.
Process and transformation process
A system can also be viewed as a bounded transformation process, that is, a process or collection of processes that transforms inputs into outputs. Inputs are consumed; outputs are produced. The concept of input and output here is very broad. E.g., an output of a passenger ship is the movement of people from departure to destination.
A subsystem is a set of elements, which is a system itself, and a part of a larger system.

Types of systems

Evidently, there are many types of systems that can be analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively. For example, with an analysis of urban systems dynamics, [A.W. Steiss] [4] defines five intersecting systems, including the physical subsystem and behavioral system. For sociological models influenced by systems theory, where Kenneth D. Bailey [5] defines systems in terms of conceptual, concrete and abstract systems; either isolated, closed, or open, Walter F. Buckley [6] defines social systems in sociology in terms of mechanical, organic, and process models. Bela H. Banathy [7] cautions that with any inquiry into a system that understanding the type of system is crucial and defines Natural and Designed systems.

In offering these more global definitions, the author maintains that it is important not to confuse one for the other. The theorist explains that natural systems include sub-atomic systems, living systems, the solar system, the galactic system and the Universe. Designed systems are our creations, our physical structures, hybrid systems which include natural and designed systems, and our conceptual knowledge. The human element of organization and activities are emphasized with their relevant abstract systems and representations. A key consideration in making distinctions among various types of systems is to determine how much freedom the system has to select purpose, goals, methods, tools, etc. and how widely is the freedom to select itself distributed (or concentrated) in the system.

George J. Klir [8] maintains that no "classification is complete and perfect for all purposes," and defines systems in terms of abstract, real, and conceptual physical systems, bounded and unbounded systems, discrete to continuous, pulse to hybrid systems, et cetera. The interaction between systems and their environments are categorized in terms of relatively closed, and open systems. It seems most unlikely that an absolutely closed system can exist or, if it did, that it could be known by us. Important distinctions have also been made between hard and soft systems.[9] Hard systems are associated with areas such as systems engineering, operations research and quantitative systems analysis. Soft systems are commonly associated with concepts developed by Peter Checkland and Brian Wilson through Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) involving methods such as action research and emphasizing participatory designs. Where hard systems might be identified as more "scientific," the distinction between them is actually often hard to define.

Cultural system

A cultural system may be defined as the interaction of different elements of culture. While a cultural system is quite different from a social system, sometimes both systems together are referred to as the sociocultural system. A major concern in the social sciences is the problem of order. One way that social order has been theorized is according to the degree of integration of cultural and social factors.

Economic system

An economic system is a mechanism (social institution) which deals with the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services in a particular society. The economic system is composed of people, institutions and their relationships to resources, such as the convention of property. It addresses the problems of economics, like the allocation and scarcity of resources.

Application of the system concept

Systems modeling is generally a basic principle in engineering and in social sciences. The system is the representation of the entities under concern. Hence inclusion to or exclusion from system context is dependent of the intention of the modeler.

No model of a system will include all features of the real system of concern, and no model of a system must include all entities belonging to a real system of concern.

Systems in information and computer science

In computer science and information science, system could also be a method or an algorithm. Again, an example will illustrate: There are systems of counting, as with Roman numerals, and various systems for filing papers, or catalogues, and various library systems, of which the Dewey Decimal System is an example. This still fits with the definition of components which are connected together (in this case in order to facilitate the flow of information).

System can also be used referring to a framework, be it software or hardware, designed to allow software programs to run, see platform.

Systems in engineering and physics

In engineering and physics, a physical system is the portion of the universe that is being studied (of which a thermodynamic system is one major example). Engineering also has the concept of a system that refers to all of the parts and interactions between parts of a complex project. Systems engineering refers to the branch of engineering that studies how this type of system should be planned, designed, implemented, built, and maintained.

Systems in social and cognitive sciences and management research

Social and cognitive sciences recognize systems in human person models and in human societies. They include human brain functions and human mental processes as well as normative ethics systems and social/cultural behavioral patterns.

In management science, operations research and organizational development (OD), human organizations are viewed as systems (conceptual systems) of interacting components such as subsystems or system aggregates, which are carriers of numerous complex processes and organizational structures. Organizational development theorist Peter Senge developed the notion of organizations as systems in his book The Fifth Discipline.

Systems thinking is a style of thinking/reasoning and problem solving. It starts from the recognition of system properties in a given problem. It can be a leadership competency. Some people can think globally while acting locally. Such people consider the potential consequences of their decisions on other parts of larger systems. This is also a basis of systemic coaching in psychology.

Organizational theorists such as Margaret Wheatley have also described the workings of organizational systems in new metaphoric contexts, such as quantum physics, chaos theory, and the self-organization of systems.

Systems applied to strategic thinking

In 1988, military strategist, John A. Warden III introduced his Five Ring System model in his book, The Air Campaign contending that any complex system could be broken down into five concentric rings. Each ring—Leadership, Processes, Infrastructure, Population and Action Units—could be used to isolate key elements of any system that needed change. The model was used effectively by Air Force planners in the First Gulf War.[10],[11],[12]. In the late 1990s, Warden applied this five ring model to business strategy[13].

See also


  1. ^ 1945, Zu einer allgemeinen Systemlehre, Blätter für deutsche Philosophie, 3/4. (Extract in: Biologia Generalis, 19 (1949), 139-164.
  2. ^ 1948, Cybernetics: Or the Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Paris, France: Librairie Hermann & Cie, and Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  3. ^ 1956. An Introduction to Cybernetics, Chapman & Hall.
  4. ^ Steiss 1967, p.8-18.
  5. ^ Bailey, 1994.
  6. ^ Buckley, 1967.
  7. ^ Banathy, 1997.
  8. ^ Klir 1969, pp. 69-72
  9. ^ Checkland 1997; Flood 1999.
  10. ^ Warden, John A. III (1988). The Air Campaign: Planning for Combat. Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press. ISBN 9781583481004. 
  11. ^ Warden, John A. III (September 1995). "Chapter 4: Air theory for the 21st century" (in Air and Space Power Journal). Battlefield of the Future: 21st Century Warfare Issues. United States Air Force. Retrieved December 26, 2008. 
  12. ^ Warden, John A. III (1995). "Enemy as a System". Airpower Journal Spring (9): 40–55. Retrieved 2009-03-25. 
  13. ^ Russell, Leland A.; Warden, John A. (2001). Winning in FastTime: Harness the Competitive Advantage of Prometheus in Business and in Life. Newport Beach, CA: GEO Group Press. ISBN 0971269718. 

Further reading

  • Alexander Backlund (2000). "The definition of system". In: Kybernetes Vol. 29 nr. 4, pp. 444-451.
  • Kenneth D. Bailey (1994). Sociology and the New Systems Theory: Toward a Theoretical Synthesis. New York: State of New York Press.
  • Bela H. Banathy (1997). "A Taste of Systemics", ISSS The Primer Project.
  • Walter F. Buckley (1967). Sociology and Modern Systems Theory, New Jersey: Englewood Cliffs.
  • Peter Checkland (1997). Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
  • Robert L. Flood (1999). Rethinking the Fifth Discipline: Learning within the unknowable. London: Routledge.
  • George J. Klir (1969). Approach to General Systems Theory, 1969.
  • Brian Wilson (1980). Systems: Concepts, methodologies and Applications, John Wiley
  • Brian Wilson (2001). Soft Systems Methodology—Conceptual model building and its contribution, J.H.Wiley.
  • Beynon-Davies P. (2009). Business Information + Systems. Palgrave, Basingstoke. ISBN: 978-0-230-20368-6

Further reading "Appraisal System",

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

A System (from Latin systēma, in turn from Greek σύστημα systēma) is a set of interacting or interdependent entities forming an integrated whole. The scientific research field which is engaged in the study of the general properties of systems include systems theory, cybernetics, dynamical systems and complex systems. They investigate the abstract properties of the matter and organization, searching concepts and principles which are independent of the specific domain, substance, type, or temporal scales of existence.[1] This research started in the 1950s, but the definition of systems and reflection on it's being go way back to the 17th century.[2]



17th century

  • According to the common system, before the creation of Matter, there was nothing but God, whose essence is immutable, and cannot be the pre-existent subject of Bodies.
    • J. de la Crose (1693). Memoirs for the ingenious. p.81
By systemes; I understand any numbers of men joyned in one Interest, or one Businesse.
- Thomas Hobbes (1651).
  • By systemes; I understand any numbers of men joyned in one Interest, or one Businesse. Of which, some are Regular, and some Irregular. Regular are those, where one Man, or Assembly of men, is constituted Representative of the whole number. All other are Irregular.
    Of Systemes subordinate, some are Politicall, and some Private. Politicall (otherwise Called Bodies Politique, and Persons In Law,) are those, which are made by authority from the Soveraign Power of the Common-wealth. Private, are those, which are constituted by Subjects amongst themselves, or by authoritie from a stranger. For no authority derived from forraign power, within the Dominion of another, is Publique there, but Private.
    And of Private Systemes, some are Lawfull; some Unlawfull: Lawfull, are those which are allowed by the Common-wealth: all other are Unlawfull. Irregular Systemes, are those which having no Representative, consist only in concourse of People; which if not forbidden by the Common-wealth, nor made on evill designe, (such as are conflux of People to markets, or shews, or any other harmelesse end,) are Lawfull. But when the Intention is evill, or (if the number be considerable) unknown, they are Unlawfull.
    ... And this is all I shall say concerning Systemes, and Assemblyes of People, which may be compared (as I said,) to the Similar parts of mans Body; such as be Lawfull, to the Muscles; such as are Unlawfull, to Wens, Biles, and Apostemes, engendred by the unnaturall conflux of evill humours.
    • Thomas Hobbes (1651). "22. Of systemes subject, politicall, and private" in: Leviathan. part (The Project Gutenberg EBook of Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes)
  • The sun, as we have already said, is placed in the middle of our system, as a source of light and heat, to illuminate and vivify all the planets subordinate to it. Without his benign influence the earth would be a mere block, which in hardness would surpass marble and the most compact substances with which we are acquainted ; no vegetation, no motion would be possible: in a word, it would be the abode of darkness, inactivity and death. The first rank therefore among inanimate beings cannot be refused to the sun ; and if the error of addressing to a created object that adoration which is due to the Creator atone could admit of excuse, we might be tempted to excuse the homage paid to the sun by the ancient Persians, as is still the ease among the Guebres, their successors, and some savage tribes in America.
    • Jacques Ozanam (1640-1717) Recreations in mathematics and natural philosophy : Volume 3 van Recreations in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. Published 1803. p.140

18th century

  • Formidable as the idea of a system of divinity may appear to young people, it is very certain that, if they are to study religion at all as a science, it cannot be studied to any good purpose, otherwise than systematically. A system is a methodical arrangement of propositions and proofs; and without such arrangement, no distinct and certain knowlege of any subject can be obtained. The thing to be desired in instruction is not to lay aside systems, but to simplify them. Systems (or bodies) of divinity, particularly, have been encumbered with a vast mass of heterogeneous matter, which even the divine by profession has not been able to digest. It is very evident that such systems are not proper even for the higher seminaries of learning, much less for common schools.
    • J. G. Burckhardt (1797). "A System of Divinity, for the Use of Schools, and for instructing Youth in the essential Principles and Duties of Religion". In: The Monthly review by Ralph Griffiths & George Edward Griffiths, 1797
A system is of vast extent and made for duration, the more it requires to be governed by a simple and general law.
- J.H. Lambert (1728 – 1777)
By a system I mean the unity of various cognitions under one idea.
- Immanuel Kant (1787).
A system is an imaginary machine invented to connect together in the fancy those different movements and effects which are already in reality performed.
- Adam Smith (1795).
  • When Newton first discovered the property of attraction, and settled its laws, he found it served very well to explain several of the most remarkable phenomena in nature ; but yet with reference to the general system of things, he could consider attraction but as an effect, whose cause at that time he did not attempt to trace. But when "he afterwards began to account for it by a subtile elastic æther, this great man (if in so great a man it be not impious to discover any thing like a blemish) seemed to have quitted his usual cautious manner of philosophising; since, perhaps, allowing all that has been advanced on this subject to be sufficiently proved, I think it leaves us with as many difficulties as it found us. That great chain of causes, which links one to another, even to the throne of God himself, can never be unravelled by any industry of ours. When we go but one step beyond the immediately sensible qualities of things, we go out of our depth.
  • Some writers have exclaimed bitterly against systems of divinity, others have exaggerated the utility of them. Perhaps the truth may be, neither side has taken sufficient pains to understand the other. Theology reduced to a system is nothing more than a regular arrangement of what we hold for religion, and there can be no damage done by such orderly dispositions of truths : on the contrary, much benefit arises to a student of divinity by them, for a system is as advantageous to a minister, as a regular set of books to a merchant.
    • Jean Claude (1782). An essay on the composition of a sermon. p.396
  • In proportion, therefore, as a system is of vast extent and made for duration, the more it requires to be governed by a simple and general law. We have only to attend to the solar system, and we shall perceive the utility of a central body on which the whole depends. In virtue of this body, it rarely happens that the planets and comets disturb each other, and these extraordinary instances form but trifling exceptions. But were we to retrench the central body, the general law would be destroyed, and the exceptions alone would remain. Harmony, in that case, must be the result of an infinite combination, of individual and discordant impulsions; insomuch, that the more our view of the whole became comprehensive, the more we should find the system, instead of tending to simplicity, confused and perplexed.
  • By the term architectonic I mean the art of constructing a system. Without systematic unity, our knowledge cannot become science; it will be an aggregate, and not a system. Thus architectonic is the doctrine of the scientific in cognition, and therefore necessarily forms part of our methodology.
    Reason cannot permit our knowledge to remain in an unconnected and rhapsodistic state, but requires that the sum of our cognitions should constitute a system. It is thus alone that they can advance the ends of reason. By a system I mean the unity of various cognitions under one idea. This idea is the conception--given by reason--of the form of a whole, in so far as the conception determines a priori not only the limits of its content, but the place which each of its parts is to occupy. The scientific idea contains, therefore, the end and the form of the whole which is in accordance with that end. The unity of the end, to which all the parts of the system relate, and through which all have a relation to each other, communicates unity to the whole system, so that the absence of any part can be immediately detected from our knowledge of the rest; and it determines a priori the limits of the system, thus excluding all contingent or arbitrary additions. The whole is thus an organism (articulatio), and not an aggregate (coacervatio); it may grow from within (per intussusceptionem), but it cannot increase by external additions (per appositionem). It is, thus, like an animal body, the growth of which does not add any limb, but, without changing their proportions, makes each in its sphere stronger and more active.
    We require, for the execution of the idea of a system, a schema, that is, a content and an arrangement of parts determined a priori by the principle which the aim of the system prescribes.
  • Systems seem, like certain worms, to be formed by a kind of generatio aequivoca--by the mere confluence of conceptions, and to gain completeness only with the progress of time.
  • The universe is composed of matter, and, as a system, is sustained by motion. Motion is not a property of matter, and without this motion the solar system could not exist. Were motion a property of matter, that undiscovered and undiscoverable thing, called perpetual motion, would establish itself. It is because motion is not a property of matter, that perpetual motion is an impossibility in the hand of every being, bat that of the Creator of motion. When the pretenders to Atheism can produce perpetual motion, and not till then, they may expect to be credited.
    • Thomas Paine (1798) "A Discourte delivered by Thomas Paine, at the Society of the Theophilanthropists at Paris, 1798". In: The Monthly review, or, Literary journal, Volume 30. by Ralph Griffiths, G. E. Griffiths, 1798.
  • The different progress of opulence in different ages and nations, has given occasion to two different systems of political economy, with regard to enriching the people. The one may be called the system of commerce, the other that of agriculture. I shall endeavour to explain both as fully and distinctly as I can, and shall begin with the system of commerce. It is the modern system, and is best understood in our own country and in our own times.
    • Adam Smith (1771). An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. (The Project Gutenberg EBook)
  • Systems in many respects resemble machines. A machine is a little system, created to perform, as well as to connect together, in reality, those different movements and effects which the artist has occasion for. A system is an imaginary machine invented to connect together in the fancy those different movements and effects which are already in reality performed... The machines that are first invented to perform any particular movement are always the most complex, and succeeding artists generally discover that, with fewer wheels, with fewer principles of motion, than had originally been employed, the fame effects may be more easily produced. The first systems, in the fame manner, are always the most complex, and a particular connecting chain, or principle, is generally thought necessary to unite every two seemingly disjointed appearances : but it often happens, that one great connecting principle is afterwards found to be sufficient to bind together all the discordant phænomena that occur in a whole species of things.
    • Adam Smith (1795). Essays on philosophical subjects. p.60.

19th century

  • Calvin's historical significance lay in this, that to the compact system of ancient dogmatic doctrine he opposed a new system of religion, far more compact and logical than that of any other Reformer;
All things which exist in nature are a whole, and at the same time a part of a larger whole.
- Elias Magnus Fries, 1825
A system is a set of objects compromising all that stands to one another in a group of connected relations
- Charles Sanders Peirce, ± 1880
  • M. Fries, who is the founder of the system of quaternary arrangement, and the authority to which the most philosophical of our writers upon the subject has so repeatedly referred. These opinions [which will follow below] are contained in the Introduction to a work published by M. Fries in 1825, under the name of Systema Orbis Vegetabilis, and may be said to exhibit the most condensed and well-arranged statement of the theory which has yet appeared...
    § 1. Nature is an universal complication of phenomena existing and acting in all places and at all times—an infinite power made manifest by the successive evolution of a finite power, the sum of the whole creation in a continuous state— all existent matter proceeding from perfection and pregnant with futurity...
    § 2. Nature must be considered as either perfect or approaching perfection
    § 3. The powers and the productions of nature are coexistent . All power is as it were a law under which a given production holds its existence, but in such a manner that all power is the finite revelation of an infinite law. To act and to exist is the same thing. Power therefore is nature without production ; Production is matter without power. Neither exists in nature by itself.
    § 4. All the powers of nature are more or less perfect manifestations of one primitive power, which acts by its different productions according to the same eternal, immutable, absolute laws. But the powers of nature act only by mutual reaction ; so that each power of nature becomes in its products impeded, interrupted, or quiescent.
    § 5, All things which exist in nature are a whole, and at the same time a part of a larger whole. They are capable of being themselves resolved into other wholes until the human mind sinks under ideas of sublimity and subtilty which are imperceptible to it,—of the universe and of atoms.
    § 6. It is impossible for the human mind, itself a finite creation, to regard nature, whether her powers or her productions are considered, in the light of the whole manifestation of an infinite power, but only as parts or fragments of such manifestation. But to comprehend these as one whole, that is, as an eternal and immutable yet ever varying body, or, as innumerable forms of one highest whole, is the end. of all disquisition, the sum of which we call a System.
    § 7. A system contains within itself the seeds of some more complete evolution, but it does not admit of arbitrary alterations. Not that any absolute system can ever be contrived; for I am by no means of the opinion of those who expect that a system is to be as unchangeable as if it were petrified.
    § 8. If nature be closely pursued, a system is called Natural; if this Ariadnean thread be not followed, it is called Artificial or factitious.
    § 9. A system of nature proceeding from subjects of the most simple organization to such as are more perfect, or from the circumference to the centre, is called a Mathematical System.
    § 10. A system of nature which takes for the basis of its arrangement the order of development of individuals is called Physiological.
    § 11. Philosophical systems do not depend upon individual productions which are subject to continual variation, but upon eternal and unchangeable ideas. These always proceed from the centre to the circumference, or from the most perfect productions to those of a lower order. This is the method of my Mycological system, rfnd it agrees with the mathematical system if the order be inverted. A Philosophical system depends upon the laws of logic; for the laws of logic are by no means notions contrived by man, but eternal and immutable, and established by Nature herself. As the rotation of the heavenly bodies, discovered after the laws of mathematics, must necessarily follow those laws; so also no observation in nature can invalidate the laws of logic. For the laws of logic are the laws of nature.
    § 12. A Philosophical system is superior to all others. It may at first appear, perhaps, of little moment, what way we follow follow in enumerating the productions of nature ; but if one way is more certain and more facile than another, that is surely to be preferred.
    • John Lindley (1826). "Some Account of the Spherical and Numerical System of Nature o/M. Elias Fries". In: Philosophical magazine: a journal of theoretical, experimental and applied physics, Volume 68, 31st August 1826.
  • The ordinary logic has a great deal to say about genera and species, or in our nineteeth century dialect, about classes. Now a class is a set of objects compromising all that stand to one another in a special relation of similarity. But where ordinary logic talks of classes the logic of relatives talks of systems. A system is a set of objects compromising all that stands to one another in a group of connected relations. Induction according to ordinary logic rises from the contemplation of a sample of a class to that of a whole class; but according to the logic of relatives it rises from the comtemplation of a fragment of a system to the envisagement of the complete system.
    • Charles Sanders Peirce (1839 – 1914) Collected papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Volume 3. Published 1930. p.5
  • When a system is brought before the public, professing to be new, and claiming to be considered as peculiarly useful, it is incumbent on those who introduce it, to show in what respects it is original, and why it is an improvement.
    • Emma Willard (1838). A system of universal geography on the principles of comparison and classification.

20th century

First half of the 20th century

  • A system is a whole which is composed of various parts. But it is not the same thing as an aggregate or heap. In an aggrete or heap, no essential relation exist between the units of which it is composed. In a heap of grain, or pile of stones, one may take away part without the other part being at all affected thereby. But in a system, each part has a fixed and necessary relation to the whole and to all the other parts. For this reason we may say that a building, or a peace of mechanisme, is a system. Each stone in teh building, each wheel in the watch, plays a part, and is essential to the whole.
A system is of significance because it brings order and clearness into our knowledge, but he ... who thinks to extend his knowledge by means of a system is self-deceived.
- Harald Høffding, 1900
Each atom
is a system of all things.

- Alfred North Whitehead, 1929.
  • A system is not so important as a method. A system is of significance because it brings order and clearness into our knowledge, but he who hopes by its help to reach something more, he who thinks to extend his knowledge by means of a system is self-deceived.
    • Harald Høffding (1900). A history of modern philosophy: a sketch of the history of philosophy from the close of the Renaissance to our own day, Volume 2.
  • Now a system is nothing but a mental connexion applied to a number of isolated events.
    • William Smith (1906). The Quarterly review. p.465
  • A system is a plan or scheme of doctrines intended to develop a particular view.
    • Albert Mackey (1919). An encyclopedia of freemasonry and its kindred sciences. p.755
  • A "representation" of a system is not a knowledge of this system, but is this system itself becoming an object, an element of experience..
  • In terms of the quantum theory, a system is defined as a collection of bands corresponding to a common transition between two major electron levels. Sets of bands in a system can be selected such that the frequency intervals between successive bands in the set change in an arithmetic progression. These sets can be chosen in two different ways, the frequency intervals increasing in opposite directions in the two sets. Deslandres, who did the pioneer work in this field, called one series of such sets " first progressions," and the other series " second progressions." An entire system of bands, often eighty or more in number, can thus be represented as a function of two parameters p and n. The parameter n varies in a first progression, p remaining constant. The parameter p varies in a second progression, n remaining constant.
    • Raymond T. Birgg (1926) "Electronic bands". In: Bulletin of the National Research Council‎. Vol 11. March to December 1926. National Research Council (U.S.). p.73.
  • The complexity of a system is no guarantee of its accuracy.
    • John Packard Jordan (1920). Cost accounting; principles and practice. p.7
  • When a transfer of matter to or from a system is also possible, the system may be called an open system.
    • Frank Henry MacDougall (1939). Thermodynamics and chemistry‎. p.134
  • A system is said to be coherent if every fact in the system is related every other fact in the system by relations that are not merely conjunctive. A deductive system affords a good example of a coherent system.
  • A system is defined as any combination of matter that we wish to study
    • Earl Bowman Millard (1946). Physical chemistry for colleges: a course of instruction. p.30.

Second half of the 20th century

  • A system is difficult to define, but it is easy to recognize some of its characteristics. A system possesses boundaries which segregate it from the rest of its field: it is cohensive in the sense that it resists encroachment from without...
    • Marvin Gerard Cline (1950). Fundamentals of a theory of the self: some exploratory speculations‎. p.45.
  • A system is primarily a living system, and the process which defines it is the maintenance of an organization which we know as life.
  • A system is any portion of the universe set aside for certain specified purposes. For our concern, a system is set aside from the universe in a manner that will enable this system to be built without having to consider the total universe. Therefore, the system is set aside from the universe by its inputs and outputs--its boundaries. The system may be said to be in operation when its inputs are being transformed into the required outputs. (Incidently, we are not here concerned with completely closed systems.) The systems that do concern us all have a number of components within their boundaries which together effect the transformation of the inputs to the required outputs. A man-machine system is one in which the components are comprised of both men and machines. Keep in mind that it is only when the components are operating together that the inputs are transformed into the proper outputs. Within this definition, a system may be anything from an amoeba to a transistor, to a weapon system, to a planet--depending on what the specified inputs and outputs are. The systems that specifically concern us are complex man-machine systems that have to be built.
    • Kay Inaba et al. (1956). "A rational method for applying behavioral technology to man-machine system design". In: Symposium on Air Force Human Engineering, Personnel and Training Research: papers. Volume 455 van Publication National Research Council, U.S. p.65-66.
  • Now a system is said to be at equilibrium when it has no further tendency to change its properties
    • Walter John Moore (1950). Physical chemistry. p.56
  • Modern positivists are apt to see more clearly that science is not a system of concepts but rather a system of statements.
  • A system can be defined as a set of elements standing in interrelations.
  • A system is anything that is not chaos, and even though history seems highly chaotic at times, we have an intuitive feeling that it is not pure chaos.
    • Kenneth E. Boulding. (1971). Collected Papers: Toward a general social science. L. D. Singell (ed.). p.151.
  • A system is recognized as such by remaining recognizable as 'itself' in spite of changes in its detailed appearance.
    • Anatol Rapoport. (1986). General system theory: essential concepts & applications‎. p.8


The following is listing of unsourced or parly sourced quotes:

  • A system is only for the philosopher, for a system implies analysis, and the poetic method is essentially synthesis.
    • In: The Academy, Volume 59, 1900
  • A system is a body composed of two or more components or phases.
    • In: Iron and steel: (a pocket encyclopedia), p.220. 1910
  • A saint without a system is a fool, and a fool never yet convinced anybody...
    • In: The Independent, 1915. p.428
  • When a system is radically wrong, we must abandon that system and find a better one.
    • In: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Volumes 69-71 1917
  • System is what differentiates the professional from the amateur.
    • In: "Get yourself a system‎" in: The Rotarian. juli 1943 - v. 63. p.34

See also


  1. Wikipedia lemma "System". Accessed Sept 15, 2009.
  2. This listing of quotes in the article is inspired by Definitionen von "System" (1572-2002) by Roland Müller, 2001-2007.

External links

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also system


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System n. (genitive Systems, plural Systeme)

  1. system

Simple English

System (Latin word is (systēma)) is a group of related things, that work with each other. These things can be real or imaginary. Systems can be real things, like a car's engine. But systems can also be things made by persons to organize ideas, groups, people, and anything else. A subsystem is a little system within a big system.

What systems do

Systems are a way to describe a set of items, or people, or things that are related, and most systems describe ways of making them work together, or why they work together already. Some systems are nothing more than a different way of looking at a problem, or thinking about a job being done.

Other systems are more like organizing books on a shelf, so that people can find things more simply, without having to search. These can be systems about how to program computers or manage people.

Types of systems

There are many kinds of systems. A system can refer to:

  • Computer systems, like systems of counting or finding things.
  • Systems in planning, like finding out how a design to fix a bridge should be carried out.
  • Systems in social science, like the way humans talk, think, and feel.
  • Systems in management and business, such as ideas about parts of companies.
  • Systems in nature, such as the life cycle or carbon cycle.
  • Systems in science, like the solar system.

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